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Photo: Brian Barron

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

“Things got a little out of hand there.”

Bilal is seemingly the master of understatement, because throwing your mic stand off the Sugar Club’s tiny stage before jumping down to join it on the ground, rolling around and screaming for the best part of two minutes? That is more than a “little out of hand” – in the best possible way.

Indeed, for all the soulful crooning and R&B-style sensibilities, it quickly becomes apparent from his vivacity and presence that the Philadelphia-born polymath is perhaps best described as a rock star. His band take to the stage first (after a superb support slot from the always impressive Loah), and dive right in to a hefty jam that immediately renders the room captivated. The band boasts absolutely spectacular percussion and strange, squelchy keys that underpin some surprisingly heavy guitars, and gorgeously pure backing vocals.

But it is Bilal himself who brings that je ne sais quoi to the show. It’s something in the way he wears sunglasses when he takes to the stage in a way that should be pretentious but, on him, it sincerely seems cool and self-assured. There’s something in his sheer sensual eccentricity too, as he manically writhes and moans into the microphone. His performance is as weird as it is sultry, and it’s all the more appealing for it.

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If you’ve seen Dublin five-piece Meltybrains? live in and around the past year, you might have found yourselves encouraged into joining a little dance routine during one particularly upbeat, sunshine-tinged song (sometimes, naturally, resulting in a conga line). That song is ‘The Vine’, and it’s finally been recorded (boasting production from none other than the formidable Kwes) and constitutes as entirely necessary listening to get your weekend off to a good start.

Get ready for lush, colourful melodies that spring to life and bring to mind magical beaches full of soaring tropical birds (or, if not birds, maybe five Irish guys trying to be a boyband). There are superbly lithe undercurrents of Afrobeat-esque rhythms too, that evoke that uplifting aura of something a little bit otherworldly. Altogether it’s sugary sweet and glorious – think endless cans of Lilt on a sunny day (without that being sickening) – and while it nods to Dancehall it retains a certain eccentricity that is inherently a Melty trait. Nialler9 posited that the track “could feature on a Disney soundtrack” and that’s kind of spot on – ‘The Vine’ is a song that seems to revel in its cartoony, uninhibited euphoria, and that’s what makes it so wonderfully moreish.

In the band’s words:

The Vine is a song about our old music lecturer, Paddy Devine, who taught us harmony and counterpoint back when we were in college. Paddy was the nicest lecturer we ever had, he was big into his rudiments and was very strict, but he was the most down to earth person you could ever meet. We were his very last class before he retired and he often took us out to drink wine with him.

We’ll always remember him in a good light, hence the lyrics:
‘It’s glad to define the fine line and rudiments, and the forgotten necessity of the vine.’

Although the lyrics are about him, the musical aspects of the song go against most of what he taught.”

It’s officially out on August 1, and there will doubtless be an equally fantastical video accompaniment but, for now, enjoy:

Photograph by Eve North.

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An unnecessarily lengthy non-Longitude anecdote to begin: it was at an Isle of Wight Festival a few years back when Devendra Banhart was playing in a tent and, knowing I was a fan, my mum and aunt decided to go watch him (assuming I would be there). They accidentally set up deck chairs in the VIP area and noticed people around them were taking photos of their co-VIP friends, so they decided to do the same, clueless about who they were. When they showed me the photos, it transpired they’d been sitting with two members of The Strokes. While my family members were essentially living my dream, I was sitting in a campsite trying to coerce my fellow teenage friends to leave so we could actually see some music. They eventually agreed, and I was afforded the opportunity to watch N-Dubz (no, really).

I eventually realised that I was better off abandoning my peers if I actually wanted to see the acts I was interested in, but the point is that, for a lot of young people, festivals aren’t so much about music. Which is fine at a camping festival – strange lands of tents, hidden raves, glitter, ponchos, pints, endless dancing and a mixture of chippers and pan-Asian food stands. The artists performing are part and parcel of the experience, of course, but a camping festival goes beyond just being a gig – sound at outdoor stages is often pretty terrible anyway, so instead it’s the atmosphere at the gigs which makes it special. But at festivals like Longitude – three non-camping days that ended around 10.45pm – there’s not quite the same otherworldly vibe, and the number of people not there to actually see acts perform was somewhat surprising. This, in turn, impacted said festival “atmosphere” for some of the acts, particularly on the Friday.

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manuchao

[Originally published on GoldenPlec

It might seem irreverent to posit Manu Chao’s satiny yellow shirt as a definitive characteristic of his Dublin performance; and yet it just about works. It captures the euphoric, brash and delightfully incongruous mood that pervaded miserably rainy Kilmainham.

The Paris-born polymath of genres brought a welcome slice of sunshiney vibes with his La Ventura show, and the gig ended up a veritable dance party under the gloomy grey sky. With a semi-mosh pit of people skanking with reckless abandon and Pride flags waving in the front row, this was the wonderful kind of gig where seemingly everyone had a smile on their face.

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wolfalice

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

From its very opening strains it is apparent that My Love Is Cool is a contender for the album to soundtrack this summer. The debut LP from North London buzzband Wolf Alice, this is a record that has been hotly anticipated and, as a whole, it does not disappoint.

The quartet opens with the delicate ‘Turn to Dust’with engagingly sweet vocals from Ellie Rowsell and mesmerising guitar melodies. It’s a strange, modern take on that mythical British folk sound, and it’s really quite beautiful.

The record ebbs and flows from this point, retaining that innocent, tender sentiment whilst also becoming getting increasingly loud and grungy – as if Wolf Alice grow in confidence and angry yearning in the midst of those romantic, growing pains.

‘You’re A Germ’ is perhaps the best exemplar of this. The recounting of the not-exactly-love story of schoolgirl Georgie, it begins all soft and subtle before bursting to life all growling, feral vocals and brutally distorted guitars. From the pretty, if eerie, intonations of “you’re a creep” to the straight-up yowl of “you ain’t going to heaven!”, it’s a transformative track that is thrilling to say the least, somehow recalling that disconcerting yet beautiful vibe from Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’.

While some have posited that the group wear their influences on their sleeves, with such an abundance of varied influences apparent it seems an irrelevant point to make. The opening of ‘Lisbon’ faintly brings to mind Joy Division, but it turns into more of a wailing siren of a track than such a comparison gives them credit for. There are lots of scuzzy, grunge-y elements too, but Wolf Alice are providing a fresher sound than them just being the latest in a line of ‘90s alt-rock wannabes. There’s an ample dose of darling, youthful indie moments, but Wolf Alice aren’t just the next Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

‘Silk’ starts as seductive as the name might suggest, all sultry, simple bass and gossamer vocalsBut, again, it grows into something weirder than that with oddly clashing, whirring harmonies taking the fore as the track unfolds. There are delightfully fluid melodies on ‘Freazy’while ‘Giant Peach’ is fantastic in its almost riotgrrrl audacity.

‘Swallowtail’ is all soaring elegance before crescendoing into something more. And then there’s the primally slow, sonic breathlessness of ‘Soapy Water’followed by the roaring monster of ‘Fluffy’. ‘The Wonderwhy’ seems the perfect closing track, bringing together all the elements of the record – that disarming softness juxtaposed with a gloriously pressing sense of urgency.

It perhaps won’t change any lives, but My Love Is Cool is certainly a debut with finesse. Wolf Alice have successfully amassed romantic and raucous sounds from a variety of genres, but rather than seeming nostalgic or “done before” it is a record remarkable for its immediacy.

My Love is Cool is out now on Dirty Hit, you can buy it here.

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Today I discovered that this blog is over three years old (a somewhat terrifying realisation), and so I felt the need to write something. Yesterday a friend of mine claimed that the Julian Casablancas + the Voidz record was one of the best guitar records of the past year. I had been avoiding the album because I don’t want my heart broken anymore than the majority of Comedown Machine managed, and recently watching the Voidz performing ‘Vision of Division’ at Primavera was difficult to say the least (not going to link to the video, because that is how upset it made me). And yet, it only seemed fitting to give Tyranny a little test run this evening, given how inextricable my Strokes love is as regards my music taste (and, indeed, as regards the name of this blog).

Writing about a record you’ve only listened to once is perhaps not the best way to treat an album – things that leave only faint impressions on you probably make more sense with each listen, I think. However, for the sake of ease we are going for a First Listen approach with Tyranny, and I will admit that I’m (just about) pleasantly surprised.

Opening track ‘Take Me in Your Army’ has this wonderfully disconcerting slowness; an intriguingly hypnotic, almost seedy swirl of a ballad. At its best that’s what this record does, creating a spiralling, strange ambience that convulses just beneath the surface, as on ‘Xerox’ and the epic, swoon-y majesty that is lead single ‘Human Sadness’. But it is perhaps when that convulsing side of things rears its head a little too much that the record seem a bit hard to stomach. It’s what I would argue was a problem on Casablancas’ solo record, Phrazes For the Young: at times, it was brilliant, but at times he tried to do much, and there can be a brashly overwhelming feel to his baroque opulence. Take from this what you will, but I do think Tyranny sounds very much like the logical next part to Phrazes.

This is an odd little record that’s often compellingly angry and sad (there’s a surprising amount of yelling from Casablancas on songs like ‘Where No Eagles Fly’) and it seems to wind its way between a variety of genres and time signatures, with sometimes poignantly off-kilter, striking lyrics (“I’m the worst” is the refrain on ‘Xerox’). There’s a sweet taste of something akin to African high life on ‘Father Electricity’, nods to metal on ‘Business Dog’ and weird flourishes of tabla and strangely (if not dubiously) Indian vibes on ‘Dare I Care’.  There’s an 80s lilt to ‘Nintendo Blood’ while tracks like ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’ I would go so far as to say sound a bit prog? Which is no bad thing, but still something I never thought I would say about a record created by a member of the Strokes. But maybe such comparisons are problematic in themselves: what one might consider as that detached, nonchalant, quintessentially “Strokes” sound hasn’t been a thing since around ten years ago. Much as hearing Casablancas’ smooth, seductive vocals unobscured aside from the distant fuzz of distortion would be beautiful, what he is trying to do musically here is incredibly far removed from what he was doing back on Is This It?. Strokes comparisons, I would posit, are irrelevant.

Tyranny isn’t a masterpiece, but ultimately nor is it underwhelming. There is a constant odd, enthrallingly siren-like nature to the record, and at times it can be a bit much. Overall I suppose you can’t fault Casablancas on ambition. It seems to be a record that might grow with each listen and, while I doubt I’m going to fall in love with it, there are some nice enough moments on it that I will certainly come back to it.

[You can listen to Tyranny on Spotify here.]

handsomeeric

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

It is an increasingly rare occasion for a record to hit you like a ton of bricks upon the first listen. For Dublin teenager handsome eric, though, it seems an almost effortless achievement.

It might seem like one of the most blasé titles possible, but this latest release in handsome eric’s oeuvre of bedroom recordings, the oh, cool EP, is aptly named. On its surface this is an EP full of garage and shoegaze-style tracks drenched in reverb, boasting amusingly honest but grim descriptions of youthful hedonism (“My friends like when I pass out / give them more to joke about”, he expounds on ‘Mopiest Boy In Leopardstown’)But it is a more assured record than such a description might allow for, with musings that run deeper than vague social commentary.

Indeed, amidst the wavy, atmospheric bedroom lo-fi, and the rich, drawling vocals, are impressively jaded lines about drinking, friends, self-destruction and death. The record as a whole seems to encapsulate that spiralling feeling of being lost in your own head. “Three fucking months and all my songs are still about you” is the sort of strikingly beautiful, melancholy lyric that Stephen O’Dowd (the man behind the moniker) seems to specialise in. But these moments of dark romance are carefully hidden beneath the distortion and occasional bouts of whirring cacophony.

It’s that idea of youth as an exercise in acting, rolling smokes and getting drunk – “we’ll pretend that it’s alright / trashy on six cans of gold”, he confesses at one point. O’Dowd is hesitantly confronting those personal yet universal sadnesses and insecurities, whilst simultaneously hiding them, washing over them with gorgeous, echoey swathes of guitar and anecdotes of the techno club.

“I always hope you notice when I’m not alright” is the line on ‘Coast To Coast Will Never Be A Hype Track, Kevin’ that perhaps sums up oh, cool the best. The darling melodies and refreshing percussion make it easy to ignore, and that nonchalant title brings to mind trying to play off everything as not a big deal. But at its core, there is a lot about the confusion of youth and heartbreak on this record, even if it’s almost drowned out in the sound of fluid, grey-blue seascapes. And that’s part of this EP’s beauty. It shyly hides beneath something much bigger.

To say this is “cool” would be an understatement: this is a sublime little record for those growing pains. It’s honest and angsty and brims over with thoughts and sounds that don’t quite seem fully-formed, and it’s all the more delightful for it.

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